In Memoriam

Remembering Ambika Rajendram
Director and Head of Conduct, The Law Society of Singapore

Ambika was my Legal Assistant for around 15 years. She joined me shortly after being called to the Bar. I cannot recall a single day that I had to supervise her work throughout the course of her working with me. She was a natural, gifted lawyer and above all she was a very kind and gentle soul. She was the objective voice of the firm, even-tempered and had an uncanny ability to be able to point out the positives even in an adverse situation. Her one precious commodity was her persona and especially her smile. As her husband, Param stated in his eulogy “even when she fought the disease that afflicted her, the smile never went away”. Through her smile we had an insight into her kind soul and being. 
During the initial years, as a small firm we faced many challenges and Ambika never shied away from difficult work. What stands out in my mind to this day was how Ambika managed to persuade the duty High Court Judge to grant an Interim Injunction to restrain a funeral from taking place. A young newly married bride from Indonesia had committed suicide by plunging 10 floors from her flat. Her extremely poor parents could not fly to Singapore for her funeral. The husband refused to delay the cremation. The only chance we had was to seek an injunction order to restrain the cremation from taking place at Mount Vernon. Ambika offered to go down to see the duty Judge who was reluctant to grant the Order, but she managed to persuade him. Only she could have done this. The Order was served on the crematorium. Her parents made it the next day and were eternally grateful to Ambika. They said that Ambika was god-sent. This was never in doubt. 
Ambika acted pro bono way before the concept caught on. One particular client for whom she acted pro bono had his case dragged on for years. He was a milkman with his own cows and lamented that the government had taken over his cow sheds and land. He would come and see her after working on his cows and tending to his land and was unaware of his attire and stench. Ambika would not care. She embraced him and finally got him the compensation that he deserved. 
Ambika endeared herself to whoever she dealt with, whether they were the staff in the office or the clients. It became apparent to me that she was the first person that they sought out for almost everything save for the menial job I had to do by appearing in Court. 
Two weeks before her sad demise, we had a Bajwa & Co reunion which Ambika attended. She was her usual self, laughing, smiling and recalling the many moments we all shared and you would never have guessed she was fighting a serious illness. 
Perhaps the Law Society provided her with the most apt job as director of professional conduct. As her sons Indran and Selvan put it in their tribute to her, “she often had to walk the tightrope of meeting stringent organisational standards and yet having to care for concerned parties in the best possible way.”
A lawyer I acted for in disciplinary proceedings testified that Ambika had deliberately held back unfavourable news as she knew it was his birthday and only told him so later so as not to spoil his birthday. Such was her “conduct” as director of professional conduct. She made sure that the complainants had their say and at the same time she made sure that she had time for the affected lawyers. There was many a lawyer whose immediate reaction upon receiving a letter of complaint was to call Ambika as they knew she would counsel them. She did her duty fairly to both sides.

Ambika (far back, right) at Bajwa & Co reunion lunch
At the eulogy, her husband said that Ambika always remembered that I had told her that being a good lawyer is not good enough as one has to be a good human being too. I hardly remembered saying that to her. However, she remembered those words and lived by them. She was both a very good lawyer and a very good human being till the end. 
We will miss her. 
R.S. Bajwa 
Bajwa & Co

Ambika (left) at Vi Ming's office

Ambika was a truly unique, exceptional and extraordinary friend.
I count it as one of the great privileges of my career to have worked with Ambika for many years. The professional interaction first presented in the administration of the Law Society Professional Indemnity Scheme, both during the time she was a member of the Broker’s team and then in the last seven years or so, when she was the Secretariat representative to the PI Committee; and then as Director of the Conduct Department of the Law Society. She was excellent in both roles, an ever reliable source of institutional information and the ever present voice of reason in the discharge of her duties.
Ambika’s gift to me was not just in the excellence of her work or the certainty of her resourcefulness, but in the sincerity of her friendship, in her enthusiasm for the pursuit of fairness for everyone who needed it, and for her laughter and for her joy. I had been a recipient of all of these gifts, generously offered by Ambika over the years. She was also full of grace, generous in her praise and affirmation of others. She never measured the achievements of her friends with scales of jealousy or envy, but whole-heartedly rejoiced, and always sought to lift and to encourage, not with insincere or obligatory platitudes, but with good wishes from her heart. Whenever I think of Ambika in those terms, I am humbled by my own lack of grace and my own failure to let her know that it was such a privilege to have known her and to have enjoyed her friendship.
I last saw Ambika at the end of June this year. We had just presented a seminar to a law firm on Professional Conduct with colleagues from the Law Society Secretariat. She was in her element, reeling off the Professional Conduct Rules with ease and holding every lawyer in the room in rapt attention. The team then adjourned to Ya Kun at the ground floor of the Golden Shoe Multi Storey Carpark building, where we enjoyed iced milo and kaya toast. There in that small dining room, Ambika’s laughter frequently punctuated the atmosphere as we joked and gossiped. I knew she had been fighting the illness for close to 18 months by then, but had no idea that would be the last time I would see her. Ambika would not allow her friends to be weighed down by her own worries, and that was perhaps the reason why she fought with so much courage and with no complaints or self-pity. And why she presented herself always with so much grace.
Ambika was grace, compassion, courage, excellence. There was never a time I could recall when she lacked or failed to display any of these. I will miss her immensely.
She was a truly unique, exceptional and extraordinary friend.
Lok Vi Ming, SC
LVM Law Chambers
Past President, The Law Society of Singapore
Chairman, Professional Indemnity Committee

Ambika (seated, second from left), with the Secretariat CEO and directors

Letter from Secretariat to a Friend
2 August 2017
Dear Ambika, 
Your cubicle is empty. 
You have left us all too soon. Adjusting to a routine without your familiar presence is not easy.
“Director of Conduct” was your official title during the nine years you were in Secretariat, but in truth you were much more. You were our colleague, legal adviser, counsellor, and friend. We talked to you about work. You advised us on the law. You gave us clear and pragmatic advice. We talked to you about friends, family, about life. We laughed and shared many happy times. You always had the time and patience for serious issues or banter. 
We remember your smile that greeted us each time we stepped into your cubicle. It was also the last thing we noticed as we headed back, with a skip in our step, to our own cubicle. 
You may not have realised it, but you inspired us. You listened and counselled without agenda or judgment. Spending time in your company gave us a new breath of enthusiasm. 
Stephen Covey must have had you in mind when he penned these lines: 
“When you show deep empathy toward others, their defensive energy goes down, and positive energy replaces it. That’s when you can get more creative in solving problems.”
Empathy is a quality you possessed in abundance. You understood and shared our feelings. We never asked … but can a person learn empathy? How did you develop or acquire this gift? We suspect your empathy was innate.
The buzzword these days is technology. There are lively debates on whether technology, in particular, artificial intelligence, will displace lawyers. There is a school of thought, and this appears to be the predominant perception, that technology can never completely replace a lawyer because certain human qualities cannot be automated. I gather that empathy is one such quality that is beyond a machine. If empathy is a valued skillset of the lawyer of the future, you were far ahead of your time. 
It was so heartening, so refreshing to have you in our midst, especially in this day and age where it is easy to find fault, to criticise, to bully. 
There is now a void. We struggle to come to terms with your absence. By emulating your care and kindness, bit by bit, day by day ... we can gradually fill the void.